At the heart of rabbinic Judaism is the notion that the reader co-creates the text with the author. While it may be that the Torah comes from God, its meaning comes from us. I am not inclined to take this literally. I don’t think God writes books. But as a metaphor it is a very powerful insight.
There are some texts that come from the highest levels of human spiritual consciousness, pointing (given the limitations of the author’s time, space, and cultural biases) directly to timeless principles that need to be applied in each generation. We have been dealing with two of these texts: the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. While each speaks in a specific language, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and to a specific people, the Jews, both boldly articulate some of the timeless principles by which all peoples in all times can live effectively with love, compassion, and justice.
What made this project so rich for me, Mike, was having the opportunity to hear these texts filtered through your heart and mind. If it is true that we co-create the texts we read by interpreting them in light of our own experience and knowledge (as well as our own ignorance and bias), then the pleasure I have found in reading these texts with you was in discovering your version of them.
But there is something else to be found in these blog posts, something that is far more important.
Interfaith dialogue is not new, but most of it takes place on the level of doctrine. Rarely do you find people of different faiths reading one another’s holy books together. Granted, the Ten Commandments are no less a part of Christianity than they are of Judaism, our traditions do understand them differently. And when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, the rarity and import of our dialogue becomes all the more clear.
What I hope we have modeled here is a new avenue for interfaith conversation: trusted friends reading, wrestling with, and commenting on each other’s sacred texts. I would like to see this repeated over and over again with clergy and texts from as broad a religious spectrum as can be mustered.
When we started this project so many months ago I had no idea where it would take us, and I have been surprised by some of the avenues we have travelled together. I was also taken with how clearly our two voices emerged. There is a consistency in our respective approaches that reflects the fundamental differences between our traditions, and yet suggests that no one way is sufficient. We balanced one another, I think, and did so in ways that enriched my understanding of the text and our traditions.
It has been a blessing and an honor to work on this with you, Mike. What’s next?